In mid-November, as corporate America was reeling from the Wall Street crash and looking ahead to an uncertain economy, some 135 corporate travel managers and meeting planners came together with 165 Marriott sales associates, general managers, and executives for the 25th Annual Marriott Corporate Partnership Conference.

Held at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, Calif., the conference included some frank discussion and many educational and networking opportunities.

Addressing the economic downturn at the outset, William Shaw, Marriott's president and COO, said, “We laid out three contingency plans last December, and we went through all of them by June.” Many heads nodded in agreement as he continued, “We're now on our fourth and fifth plans.” Shaw was quick to add, however, that he had seen Marriott emerge stronger after the three previous downturns he'd experienced in his 34 years with the company. “Our philosophy in good times and in bad is that we want to outperform the competition and increase market share,” Shaw said.

Despite its downturn in recent quarters, Marriott has 130,000 new rooms in the development pipeline worldwide. Half of those are under construction and an additional 10 percent have financing secured. Ed Fuller, president and managing director, international lodging, said that Marriott will open the most new properties over the next two years in India, China, and the Middle East, which will contribute to a total international portfolio of 400 hotels in 75 countries.

For larger companies, Fuller said, the future of meetings is a global future, and planners should be looking to leverage their meeting buying on a global basis. Further, he said, while the global economic downturn is lagging the U.S. downturn by about five months, in the area of environmental consciousness, Europe is a couple of decades ahead of the U.S. The green wave is here, Fuller said, and companies across industries must get involved in community relations and environmental responsibility.

Having measured its own global carbon footprint, Marriott has set a goal of reducing that footprint by 25 percent in 10 years, said Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president, global communications and public affairs. The company also is working with 40 of its vendors to “green” its supply chain, from pens to paint. Find out more at www.marriott.com/environment.

Online Planning Power

Among the innovations announced during Marriott's Corporate Partnership Conference:

Book a Small Meeting in No Time Flat: With QuickGroup, meeting planners can source and book meetings of 10 to 25 rooms online anytime, checking availability at more than 3,000 hotels worldwide and using a simple online contract.

See What's Where On-Site: Marriott is in development of a long-awaited advancement in inventory management — a consolidated inventory system. The system will show transient sleeping rooms, meeting space, and group sleeping rooms all in one place. This will make checking availability easier and more accurate, and will allow planners on-site at a meeting to see everything that's going on there at one time.

Visit www.marriott.com/business for details on these and other tech tools for meetings.